How to Make a Painting for a Kid's Room Posted on 20 Jul 14:10
Ah Wednesday morning, time for a blog post. You can get used to seeing a new blog go up every week on Wednesdays, ok? I hope it'll become a nice hump day distraction for all my internet peeps :)
Today I want to take you through a fun project I just finished for my 2-year-old daughter's first big girl room. Her little brother is on the way, due in T-minus 8 weeks (or let's be honest, 10 more FULL weeks if he's anything like his sister... ugh), so we set Zoë up in her own room last month, down the hall from the nursery. Although the crib (i.e. baby jail) was still working out well for us, I wanted to move her over sooner than later so she didn't feel like she was being evicted on account of what's-his-name (...really what is his name? We still don't know...), but more so, I was just so excited to create her new space! I'll have a full blog detailing all the decorating coming up soon, but for today I'll just be focusing on how I made this colourful cat painting (above) for her wall... and how you can do one like it too.
Start by Getting Inspired
Zoë and I go to the library every week in search of cat books. Zoë loves cats, and I think at times maybe she thinks she is a cat?! Ahhh it melts my (own cat-loving) heart! Anyway, one day we borrowed this book, called Kittens! Kittens! Kittens!written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by David Walker. As far as I'm concerned, this book is everything a picture book should be; who can resist rhyming couplets and cute kitty pics?! We liked it so much, we (er... I) decided to adopt it as inspiration for a big painting in her room, adapting it as necessary to make it original, suitable and unique.
I intended for this painting to go above Zoë's dresser, so I chose a rectangular canvas sized almost as long as the dresser itself— 30 x 40". It's always best to fill the available space as entirely as possible; when in doubt, go big. When canvas shopping, you have the option of regular or thick sides which is called gallery style. Whereas a standard canvas is usually 0.75" thick and meant for framing, gallery canvases are 1.5" thick and intended to stand on their own, protruding from the wall at a substantial, appropriate looking depth (see example image below). My preference is always for gallery style wherever possible for this reason. They do cost slightly more, but overall much less if you take into consideration the need for a frame with standard canvases.
Once you have your canvas purchased, you need to prime it with gesso. Even if your canvas says it's pre-primed, gesso it again (maybe even do two coats). Gesso looks like thick acrylic paint with a chalkiness to it; in fact, most gessos on the market today are acrylic-based and mixed with calcium carbonate. It is used to fill in and smooth out the texture of the canvas fabric, strengthen the canvas against warpage, and provide a ground for whatever materials are to be applied on top. I recommend rolling gesso on rather than using a brush because you can achieve thinner layers and no brushstrokes this way.
Sketch Your Composition
When the gesso is dry, you can plan out how your composition will take shape directly on the canvas with a pencil. First block out where each item (or character, or cat) will go with a general rectangle to indicate size and proximity to other items in the composition. Then go back and actually draw in the outline and details of each cat. Keep your pencil light enough to just see it as you'll likely need to make many marks before you get it how you like it. Pencil can be covered by paint, but it's obviously easier to cover if it's lighter.
In the case of my cat painting, I chose to work from two particular illustrations in the book, combining them to suit my rectangular canvas shape. I drew the family of cats freehand, using the pictures as reference, then added a few more flowers to fill in the space.
Outline in Yellow
With everything drawn up in pencil, next it's time to crack open the paint! I have a trick for adding life and vitality to any painting, and that is to first outline everything in yellow paint. Doing so will provide a happy highlight to each item and allow for forgiveness when you go to paint everything else in (because you won't have to go right up to and follow perfectly along the lines). The best part about this technique is, if you do it quick-ish and imperfectly, it still looks good... it actually gives it style.
Next, Paint, Paint, Paint!
Jump in once the yellow's done with all the colours of the rainbow. I used acrylic paint for this piece because it comes in bright hues, dries fast and is easily thinned and cleaned up with water. Start by extruding (i.e. plopping out... lol) a few analogous colours at once, plus white and dark grey (I tend to avoid black as it's generally just unnecessarily dark). Mix the colours you need as you go, using the illustration as a guide. It's always easier to make a colour darker than it is to make it lighter since you only need a tiny bit of dark to adjust the overall shade, so work on your light areas first and move to dark second. Do everything that's in the same colour group at once, then move along to another colour group—this way you'll maximize your time and minimize your paint wastage. As you can see in the below progression shots, I filled in the green grass first, then painted in the brown cats, then the orange cats, then the blue sky, then the gray cats, and finally the pink flowers.
Here's a close-up:
In most cases, I painted two coats to get the opacity I was after, particularly in the grass and the sky. On the second coat I mixed up a slightly darker shade than the main shade for the grass and sky and put it around the edges (sometimes called 'burning the edges') to create depth and make it a little more visually appealing. If you work fast enough, you can blend the main shade and slightly darker shade seamlessly together for a nice gradient.
Tidy and Polish
To finish the piece, I stood back from it to gauge whether there was anything that needed to be punched up or edited back. I decided to add a few more red dots to the centers of the flowers and give the mom and dad cats bright red and blue collars. I also added more orange to the mom cat's face to define her nose a bit better. Then I tidied up the border by painting a white stripe around the outermost edge of the painting. I could definitely have painted the sky and grass right out to the edges, but I liked the idea of a white border because it ties in nicely with her white dresser. Lastly, I signed it, "Mom" :)
Et voilà! Zoë's room is complete now that she has her very own cat family painting hanging on her wall. :")
Now I ask you,
Is there any part of this process that you still might find intimidating? Let me know down below so I can debunk it for you! Of course, as always, the best way to figure it out is by trying it yourself... so show me what you make!!